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Penn State’s Post-Michigan State Report Card

Penn State football celebrated its Senior Day by taking down Michigan State in the battle for the Land-Grant Trophy Saturday.

After an extremely slow first half, the Nittany Lions battled back from an 11-point deficit and managed a 39-24 win over the Spartans. It wasn’t a perfect day for several of Penn State’s position groups, but each did what it needed to do to pull out a third straight win.

Here are our grades from the Nittany Lions’ week eight victory:

Quarterbacks: B+

Other than his 31-yard touchdown rush, the first half wasn’t overly impressive for Sean Clifford. However, he woke up in the game’s final 30 minutes to put together a fairly strong performance.

Clifford found Parker Washington twice in the second half for a couple of key scores, including a bullet to the back of the end zone early in the third quarter. That touchdown brought Penn State within one possession of the Spartans and helped spark the offense’s second-half burst.

QB1 finished his day with those two passing touchdowns, 232 yards through the air, and a team-leading 48 rushing yards.

Will Levis finished second on the team with 36 rushing yards on 15 attempts. The Connecticut native also got a chance to show off his arm, as he completed three passes worth 54 yards. The big man also plowed his way in for a third-quarter score that gave the Nittany Lions a one-point lead.

Both quarterbacks did their jobs, but the most important thing? No turnovers. Those have been an issue for both guys throughout this season, and turnover-free football is clearly a good recipe to get this team wins.

Running Backs: C

It’s hard to say the running backs played badly Saturday because none of them really got any opportunities. The Nittany Lions attempted 30 passes on the day, while Clifford and Levis carried the rushing load by combining for 24 total attempts.

Devyn Ford wasn’t used Saturday, so Keyvone Lee and Caziah Holmes were the only running backs who saw time. Lee actually had a fantastic rush all the way to the end zone on Penn State’s first drive, but that was nullified by a holding call.

Lee finished his afternoon with 31 yards on 12 carries, while Holmes had eight yards on just two attempts. In fact, the biggest play of the game for either running back came when Lee hit a standing flip to celebrate the win.

Wide Receivers: A

Penn State’s wide receivers were awesome against Michigan State, namely Parker Washington and Jahan Dotson. The pair combined for 203 receiving yards, which was worth more than half of the Nittany Lions’ offensive production.

Washington had two second-half touchdowns, the second of which put Penn State up two possessions late.

While Washington’s scores were both big, the cherry on top of all of it was Jahan Dotson’s 81-yard punt return touchdown. The wide receiver’s score gave Penn State a huge 39-24 late and only added to all of the fun that was the second half.

Along with that exciting touchdown, Dotson led the way with eight catches worth 108 yards, including a 36-yard connection with Will Levis.

Outside of those two, KeAndre Lambert-Smith finished the afternoon with a solid three catches worth 24 yards.

Tight Ends: B-

Brenton Strange proved his ability to be a strong target for Sean Clifford early against the Spartans. He got himself open over the middle on Penn State’s first drive and took it 27 yards into Michigan State territory. Strange caught two more passes on the day worth 12 and six yards.

Freshman Theo Johnson, on the other hand, was targeted twice but couldn’t make any catches.

While both young players seem to have the talent to make big plays for Penn State, they understandably have yet to fill the huge void left by star junior Pat Freiermuth.

Offensive Line: A-

Sean Clifford and Will Levis were never sacked or hurried on the day, so overall it was a strong performance in that department for Penn State’s offensive line.

While Penn State’s running backs couldn’t get much going, the big men up front paved the way for the two signal-callers to make some big plays on the ground. The Nittany Lions totaled 119 rushing yards against the Spartans, while plenty of time in the pocket resulted in a big day through the air.

Defensive Line: A-

All things considered, the Nittany Lions’ defensive line had a pretty nice day against the Spartans. Michigan State had just 64 yards on the ground, while quarterback Payton Thorne was sacked four times and hurried on five occasions.

Shane Simmons had a standout Senior Day performance by racking up seven total tackles, 1.5 sacks, and even breaking up a pass. Antonio Shelton also grabbed 1.5 sacks in his potential last game at Beaver Stadium, while Shaka Toney had five total tackles.

Linebackers: B-

Not a huge day for Penn State’s linebackers, especially considering their first-half coverage struggles, but Jesse Luketa and Ellis Brooks both had solid performances.

Luketa was in on plenty of big plays, as he had seven total tackles, including half for a loss, and broke up a pass. Brooks made six tackles, including one for a loss.

Brandon Smith was largely shut down by Michigan State and struggled to make much of a difference, as he had just two tackles.

Secondary: C-

The group’s ability to wake up in the second half keeps them out of the D range, but man was that first half ugly for Penn State’s secondary.

Payton Thorne entered this contest with two career interceptions and no touchdowns but managed to throw for three touchdowns in the first thirty minutes of this one. The Nittany Lions struggled to keep up with Spartan wide receivers Jalen Nailor and Jayden Reed, as both of them burned the secondary early and often.

The group settled down in the second half and held the Spartans to just three points, but Thorne still finished his day with 325 yards on 22 completions.

Jaquan Brisker was once again the star of the group, as he led the team with nine total tackles. He also had an interception early in the game but gave it right back to the Spartans when he fumbled on his return.

Special Teams: A

Dotson’s punt-return touchdown was the highlight of Penn State’s special teams, but Lamont Wade also played well as kick returner. The safety averaged 29 yards on three return attempts, along with a long of 37 yards.

As for the specialists, Jake Pinegar was good on a 24-yard attempt and hit all of his extra points. Jordan Stout averaged 41.8 yards on five punts and pinned the Spartans inside their own 20 on three occasions, while he nailed several patented touchbacks on kickoffs.

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About the Author

Will Pegler

Will is a senior majoring in digital and print journalism and is an associate editor for Onward State. He is from Darien, Connecticut and is a lifelong Penn State football fan. He loves a good 80's comedy movie, Peaky Blinders, The Office, and the New York Yankees and Giants. You can catch some of his ridiculous sports takes on his Twitter @gritdude and yell at him on his email [email protected]

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